It’s almost as if postseason matchups between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State are becoming a standard college football tradition that rivals the bowl games themselves. Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl will be the fifth time these two programs have met, and all five will have taken place in bowl games.
The first came back in the 1978 Gator Bowl when the Tigers beat the Buckeyes 17-15. It would be 36 years before they met again when they squared off in the 2014 Orange Bowl, but this year’s game will mark the fourth meeting in the last seven years and the third time in a College Football Playoff game. Of course, while the stakes have changed, the results have been the same.
Clemson has won all four of the meetings so far, including a 31-0 blowout in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. That win propelled the Tigers to their first national title. Last year’s Fiesta Bowl reunion was much closer with Clemson winning 29-23. Will moving from the desert to the bayou will do the Buckeyes well, or will Clemson continue its dominance of the series?
Game: Sugar Bowl — College Football Playoff semifinal
Date: Friday, Jan. 1 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome — New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Clemson: The Clemson program has reached a point where you almost feel like you can ignore it during the regular season because you know it’s going to win the ACC and make the College Football Playoff. Well, there was a little bit of doubt this year due to Notre Dame’s presence in the conference, but even when the Fighting Irish beat Clemson 47-40, you still thought they would have to do it a second time. That meeting went much better for the Tigers as they beat the Irish 34-10 with Trevor Lawrence back behind center. Now they’re back in the playoff for the sixth time (tied with Alabama for the most appearances) in its seven-year history and are looking to win their seventh playoff game. Doing so would put the Tigers in the title game for the fifth time.
Ohio State: It was a strange season for Ohio State, even by the strange standards of college football in 2020 as a whole. First, the Buckeyes had their season postponed by the Big Ten, only for the conference to do a 180 on the decision. Then after getting off to a hot start, the Buckeyes’ season was delayed again when their game against Maryland was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns with the Terrapins. They came back and struggled against a top 10 Indiana team but won. The next week their game against Illinois was canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the Buckeyes. Again they returned for a game — a 52-12 blowout of Michigan State — before the regular-season finale against Michigan was canceled due to COVID-19. It was a stop and start season that made it difficult for the Buckeyes to get into a rhythm. Now they enter the playoff having played only six games and facing a Clemson team that’s been a pain in their rear.
Sugar Bowl prediction, pick
I’m not sure why Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has been so willing to provide Ohio State with bulletin board material the last few weeks, but he’s not shy about it. Swinney is adamant about his belief that Ohio State shouldn’t have been selected for the College Football Playoff because it only played six games. Now, we all know that if had it been Clemson who had been limited to only six games, Swinney would not be arguing his team didn’t belong. Still, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong. It is advantageous for the Buckeyes to only have to play six games, but I don’t think it’s enough of an advantage that they win this game. When Clemson has Lawrence, it has looked like the juggernaut we all expected it to be. Ohio State looked terrific in its first three games but has been inconsistent since with Justin Fields especially struggling to find his confidence. Unless Fields reverts to his elite form, it’s hard to imagine the Buckeyes keeping this game within a touchdown. Pick: Clemson -7.5 | Clemson 31, Ohio State 21